When one hears the word “indifference” one often comes up with a negative feel for it. It seems to mean, “not caring” and as such it is a very negative word. Pope Francis has spoken of the ‘globalization of indifference’. He means by that the attitude of some to just ignore the things that need to be done as a consequence of our compassion. To be indifferent to what is happening in Syria to so many innocent people is to engage in a fundamentally unchristian act. This needs to be rightly condemned. It is an evil.
But that is not what I mean when I speak of the grace of indifference. That word in the classical spiritual vocabulary of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis de Sales has a very important meaning that can transform our lives, help us avoid ruts of negativity and make our endeavors efficient and productive.
In Spiritual Theology indifference can be understood as a sense of detachment to be able to see things clearly and untouched by emotional turmoil that often makes us choose the wrong course of action. Think of the last time you said a rash word in anger and wished you had held back. The grace of indifference helps us to stand aside from our emotions and make good choices based on facts. On a purely natural level, it works wonders.
President Obama, for instance, has been criticized for his lack of emotions in dealing with conflicts. But he is very emotional who does not let his emotions tell him what to do. Feelings have often been canonized in our ordinary life. But they are untrustworthy since they change so often. One must analyze a situation. President Obama waits and listens to his mind and heart and other’s advice before making an important decision. He is using his critical faculties in a measured and appropriate way.
Parenthetically what scares me about all the candidates of both parties in this primary season is that I don’t see that thoughtfulness and emotional restraint. Everyone is shooting from the hip. That is ok for candidates since they don’t make national decisions but it is fatal in a President. Any real leader must be part Vulcan. Spock in Star Trek embodied the ideal of indifference as a positive force.
But indifference when it is looked at from a supernatural point of view has another even more important aspect. Indifference or Detachment is a virtue in the service of God. We make ourselves indifferent to our own will so as to accomplish the will of the Father. In a classic example from the life of Jesus, we see Jesus in the Garden of Olives begging the Father to take this chalice away from Him. He did not want to go through so much physical and mental suffering. But. And in that one three letter word we see the kernel of the virtue of Detachment. While he wanted to forgo the suffering He continued: “But let your will be done”. Only when one is truly indifferent to one’s own will can we perceive and assent to the will of God in our lives.
Detachment or indifference of this kind requires moral resolve and courage since many pressures internally (our own way of doing things) and externally (the expectations of others) often push us to say or do things that in time we rightly judge to be imprudent. Therefore, we need the grace of God to be able to stop the forward rush to judgment and prayerfully ask for the grace of indifference.
They once asked St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, what he would do if the Holy Father, under obedience, asked him to disband the Jesuit order. He responded that he would need to take a few minutes in prayer to ask God for the grace to do his will in obedience to the Holy Father and then he would disband the Jesuits. He would need a space of time to get his emotions under control and ask God for the grace of indifference. This virtue is very practical and very useful. I invite the reader to reflect on it and ask the Lord for that grace especially in times of decision.